BY Grete Maria Neppo
I landed in Guatemala City on 3rd of October. After living in this country for seven months, I thought it’s finally the time to make a (maybe not so) little summary of my time here. I will mark the best, worst, weird, funny and so on stuff, and maybe it could be a little guide to whomever who wants to come to Guatemala.
Wow, that’s a tough one. Guatemala has so many traditional plates, you’d need like six months to try them all. I’m not even going to put the entire list of the food here, it would be 90% of this article, so I’ll stay with my two favorites: paches and pepian.
Pache is a mass of potatoes, corn, tomatoes, usually with pieces of chicken and a chilli (out of many things), cooked and wrapped in banana tree leafs. It is mainly eaten on Thursdays. If you walk around any town or city in Guatemala and see that a house or shop has a red plastic ball with a light in it hanging outside, it means they have paches. The same goes for tamales on Saturdays. It’s a cheap food choice, onepache costs 5 quetzales, which is less than one euro.
Pepian is a thick soup with potato, chicken and rice with a piece of avocado. A plate at a market usually costs 20 quetzales (2,8 euros).
All foods are eaten with tortillas made from corn flour and if you like it, a lot of spicy sauce chile.
Bad food doesn’t excist in this country.
(Although after seven months I need a break from eggs and beans.)
Guatemala has a variety of frescos, natural juices made from different fruits. My favorite is tamarind juice.
The pride of Guatemala in the world of alcohol is Quetzalteca. It is made of schnapps and fruits. Once again, my favorite is Quetzalteca of tamarind.
Guatemala doesn’t really shine with beers. It has two drinkable beers which guatemalans are really proud of, but coming from a country that (in my opinion) produces the best beers in Europe after Germany and Belgium, and being a beer drinker it is hard to find beers that aren’t local ones or Heineken.
The best experience
I spent November learning how to walk on stilts, four sessions to be excact, and in December we participated in a festival called Chitik. Chitik celebrates the Mayan culture and the highlight of the event was a parade through the centre of Guatemala City. About 200 persons from different Central-American countries on stilts, amazing costumes and five hours to celebrate life.
The worst experience
In January I got assaulted. I mentioned it in my last article, but didn’t describe it. We were walking home with Magdalena, taking the street we take every single day. It wasn’t super late, 7:30PM, when suddenly a guy came running from behind us, put his hand into my bag and yelled „your phone”. I grabbed my bag, yelled back at him and suddenly, I don’t remember how, we were on the ground, me holding onto his leg and kicking him everywhere my leg reached. He got away and we didn’t walk that street for a month.
The day before Christmas, my bag got stolen. Luckily, I got it back, just without my phone and my money.
The weirdest experience
The 7th of December there’s a tradition of Burning the Devil. People buy devil-shaped piñatas, and excactly at 6PM, they light them up on fire.
I also met and Estonian girl here. How? Well, there was an article published about her and she got assaulted the same day when my stuff was stolen. So I wrote her and we met up twice, in Guatemala City and in Antigua, where she was staying.
Oh, and I found out that there’s an Estonian guy living at Lake Atitlán. If you read it, I’m waiting for an invitation to visit!
The best dancing experience
In Guatemala I learned to dance. Cumbia, salsa and bachata are the most popular dances. I am dancing a lot, doesn’t matter the place or time. I think the best dance party was during Holy Week in San Pedro La Laguna when there was around hundred persons dancing in the middle of a street to a band that had a live in a bar. Amazing!
The funniest experience considering the language
First of all, every Spanish-speaking country speaks it differently. From accent to words they use. I lived in Chile two years ago and learned my Spanish there. When I got to Guatemala I was very confident about my language skills, until I realized I didn’t understand anyone nor anyone understood me. For example, we were talking about weed with my friends and at some point they all stared me with this really weird look. That was when I found out that pito means penis in Guatemala, meanwhile in Chile it’s a joint. There were a lot of confusing words, for example, a bus in Chile is called micro and here in Guatemala it is, well, a bus. Me talking about anything was pretty confusing for guatemalans.
One thing I am not willing to change is how clothes are called. Everybody still tries to correct me whenever I mention a piece of clothing (for example, sweatshirt is chumpa in Guatemala, but I keep using the Chilean word poleron). Ain’t gonna happen. I am trying really hard to keep the last bit of Chilean in me, but as I’ve been told a lot of times: I talk mor chapin than an actual Guatemalan.
The best trip
Every trip I’ve taken has been unique. But I think the one that I most enjoyed was when me and my two friends went to Lake Atitlán for Holy Week. Going swimming every day, eating amazing street food and spending our nights dancing and just having fun. And of course, going to Tikal National Park to see the Mayan pyramids.
The climate is perfect most of the year. There aren’t any marked seasons besides dry and rain season. In December it’s kind of cold, I think there were like seven days with less than 20 degrees. Otherwise, it is between 23 and 30 degrees in the capital.
Because of the climate, Guatemala is called the country of everlasting spring.
Guatemala is probably one of the most diverse countries when talking about nature. There’s the Pacific ocean where the beaches have black volcanic sand, there’s the Carribean, there are more than 30 volcanoes in Guatemala. Entire Northern Guatemala is a rainforest (it’s almost the size of Estonia). There are hidden caves, lakes, natural pools with termal water. A lot of the most amazing places here are only accesible on foot.
Guatemala is home to jaguars, sea turtles, tucans, quetzals (the national bird of Guatemala, also almost extinct), spider monkeys, armadillos, ocelots, caimans, spiders like the black widow and much more. The most disgusting animals here are cockroaches. They’re huge. And sometimes they fly. I once had a 5 centimetre cockroach in my bathroom. I almost packed up my stuff and wanted to go back to Estonia. After seven months though, I don’t even react to them (unless they’re close to my face). I just kill them.
One of the most important things when talking about Guatemala are the indigenous people here. About 40% of guatemalans are indigenous. These communities are all the descendants of Mayas. Besides Spanish there is 23 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, Spanish is actually the second language to many people. Every indigenous community has their own language, every village has their own traditional clothes and customs. I’ve had the luck and honour to be part of several Mayan ceremonies that a lot of young indigenous people are still practicing and keeping alive. Because of modernization, Guatemalan civil war and discrimination, a lot of indigenous communities are losing their clothes and languages, but luckily there are a lot of people who do everything in their power to keep their cultures alive.
I have learned a lot here. Besides getting to know Guatemala, the different realities of this country, the history, and so on, I have learned a lot about myself. I know myself better. Thanks for being in Guatemala, I know what I want to be and what to do. As a a profession and as a person. Guatemala definately changed me and gave me new perspectives of life.
I hope I will have another chance to come back to this country. There is still so much to do for me here. My work here isn’t done.